Central Islip students send Tom Croci holiday greetings

This undated photo shows students at the Charles This undated photo shows students at the Charles Mulligan Middle School in Central Islip showing off some of the 500 handmade Christmas cards that will be sent to Town of Islip Supervisor Tom Croci as he serves in the military overseas during the holiday season. Photo Credit: Town of Islip

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Town of Islip Supervisor Tom Croci -- who may be as far as 8,000 miles away from his elected seat -- could get a sizable gift from his hometown this holiday: hundreds of handmade cards from local students.

More than 600 greeting cards from children at the Charles A. Mulligan Intermediate School in Central Islip will be on the way to Croci -- a Navy commander believed to be stationed in Afghanistan -- as well as to his fellow sailors this week, said seventh-grade math teacher Debbie Cavanagh, who said she worked with Croci in a mentoring program between the school and the town.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders practiced their penmanship skills and learned to write formal letters, Cavanagh said, to make the project educational as well.

The messages were filled with greetings and personal tidbits about the students. Jasmine, a seventh-grader, wrote that she has a cousin in the military. "I thank you for all your service, and all my prayers go to you," she wrote. "Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, safe home and return. P.S. I hope this makes you smile."

Croci, who was elected to the town's top post in 2011, was recalled to active duty in May and has been deployed since July.

Cavanagh said she was given a special address to ship the cards to that doesn't reveal Croci's location.

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"All they gave us on the address was a bunch of numbers," Cavanagh said. "I don't know what they mean. I know he's an intelligence officer, so whatever he's doing, it's all undercover and secret."

Islip Town Councilman Steven Flotteron described Croci as a "role model" and said he is "missed by everyone. We have our privileges here for what they sacrifice," he said of the troops. "We gave our brother to another part of the world to make it a better place, and it's heartwarming to see these kids sending their respect and love."

Cavanagh was inspired to launch "Operation Christmas Card" after watching "The Christmas Card," a movie that centers on a U.S. soldier who receives an inspirational holiday card from a church group.

"I would love to be there when he actually gets them, because knowing Tom as well as I know Tom, it'll bring a tear to his eyes," Cavanagh said. "That's the type of person he is; he's very warmhearted."

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